LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Exactly how the Toronto Blue Jays plan to win over Shohei Otani once he’s officially posted Ross Atkins won’t say, but in publicly emphasizing an organizational setup conducive to the Japanese star’s desire to both pitch and hit in the big-leagues, the general manager may very well have offered a window into the pitch his team will be making.
“I think we’re as well equipped as any organization in baseball,” Atkins said, perhaps trying to pique Otani’s interest. “Our emphasis on recovery, our emphasis on preparation, our emphasis on what it takes to realize all of your potential and understanding what that means is at the forefront. The fact we’re in the American League and do have the DH spot allows for more patience, and allows for more versatility in that arena. I can’t imagine a better fit, quite frankly.”
While all that may seem relatively innocuous, consider some of Otani’s comments from his news conference at the Japan National Press Club on Saturday morning. He was quoted by the Japan Times as telling reporters that, “There are still so many things I’m lacking and I want to put myself in an environment where I can improve. Hopefully I can go to a club that suits my way of thinking.”
Precisely what Otani’s way of thinking is remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, but Dan Evans, the Blue Jays’ head of Pacific Rim Operations, has been the club’s point man on the ground, building up a base of knowledge about the 23-year-old. Major-league scout Jim Skaalen “spent weeks watching him play and understanding the pieces of the puzzle,” said Atkins, while assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, pro scouting director Ryan Mittleman and scout Jon Lalonde also went to Japan for first-hand looks.
“Everything we’ve learned about Otani is that it’s baseball and baseball first,” said Atkins. “He’s thinking about how he can be one of the best athletes in the world.”
To that end, it’s sensible for the Blue Jays to position themselves as the team to help him reach those goals, especially since money won’t provide the tipping point in the bidding. Since Otani is under 25, his signing will count against a team’s international bonus pool, which is hard capped between $4.75-$5.75 million depending on a club’s market size and revenue.
The Blue Jays are on the lower end of that scale and spent heavily in July, but they acquired some pool room from the St. Louis Cardinals in a trade for minor-leaguer Lane Thomas during the summer and are believed to have slightly more than $1 million to work with right now.
That, in concert with the opportunity to play both ways the Blue Jays are willing to offer, plus the tools to make the endeavour succeed is how Atkins and company could try to sell Otani.
“Having a process to evaluate and assess recovery is paramount and making sure that you’re using feedback appropriately and not just sticking to traditional norms,” Atkins said of protecting a player who both hits and pitches.
“There aren’t examples of it in the modern game, but data around recovery specific to that player, data around recovery relative to other players per position – we’re not going to have concrete research on how to have a two-way player, but to be a bit more scientific about it than subjective is a benefit to any organization that’s prepared to do that. Most importantly, the biggest piece of the equation is going to be the player in that scenario, their desires, their feedback, their inputs, in how you use that information.”
For now, all the Blue Jays can do is wait for the posting process to be established between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, and the chance to put their plans in motion.
“We are extremely prepared,” said Atkins. “He fits about as well anybody could fit for our team right now. He’s an incredible talent.
News and notes from the Waldorf Astoria, site of the general managers meetings:
• President and CEO Mark Shapiro, Ross Atkins and a contingent of about 40 people will represent the Blue Jays at Tuesday’s Celebration of Life for Roy Halladay in nearby Clearwater, Fla. Atkins said plans to recognize the right-hander are in the works and that the organization has “talked to his representation, we’ve talked to his closest friends and asked them their opinions on how to best handle that and how to do it best with his family, letting them lead it with us.”
As for a report by Hall of Fame writer Bob Elliott of the Canadian Baseball Network that the Blue Jays made Halladay apply for a job with the team, Atkins said, “What I can tell you is what was reported wasn’t accurate. … We embraced him 100 per cent and wanted him to feel very much a part of the organization and there were multiple discussions to try to make that happen.”
• Weeks of planning lead teams to consider all kinds of scenarios once the off-season begins and that leads to all kinds of conversation about a variety of players. For the Blue Jays, that means Josh Donaldson is going to be asked about, but as Atkins put it, “every team also understands how much we value Josh Donaldson and how important he is to us.” Despite that, some fans may be wondering whether the GM’s mention of possible subtraction off the big-league roster could include swapping the star slugger for multiple pieces.
Related to Donaldson? “We have areas of depth across our outfield and in our bullpen. It may just be a team that values a player slightly differently than us,” said Atkins. “We’re not planning on subtraction, we’re planning on just adding and making our team better.”
• One of the things that attracted Alex Anthopoulos to the Los Angeles Dodgers when he left the Blue Jays was the chance to work with Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi and learn how they operate. Now that he’s general manager of the Atlanta Braves, he gets to take some of the insights he’s picked up with him.
“It’s inevitable,” said Zaidi. “For us, he had so much of his own institutional knowledge coming from Toronto, sometimes directly and sometimes just by virtue of being around him he shared that with us. The way executives are moving around the game now, that’s a little bit of an occupational hazard. You try to think more of the value someone can bring to you while they’re around and that benefit more than what he’s going to be taking with him when he leaves.
“At the end of the day, Alex was a very successful GM and many, if not most, of his practices that he’s going to take with him to Atlanta are philosophies and thoughts he’s developed on his own. Over the last two years, we’ve maybe influenced that a little bit, but he’s influenced us. It was a very happy marriage for a couple of years and we’re kind of disappointed personally and professionally that he’s gone, but obviously wish him the best. He’s going to do great there.”
• While Anthopoulos was introduced in Atlanta on Monday, Perry Minasian, his former pro scouting director with the Blue Jays turned director, player personnel for the Braves, was helping hold court at the GM meetings.
“I’m really excited,” Minasian said about reuniting with Anthopoulos. “It’s an outstanding fit with where we’re at as an organization. We’re a lot better today than we were yesterday. Can’t wait to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”